Archive for the ‘International Business ’ Category

A President’s Business Trip to Africa

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Cape Town on the Ground cx1The U.S. president and first lady on the ground in Cape Town

President Obama’s second trip to Africa signals the administration’s renewed commitment to the Sub-Sahara. At stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania this week the president is expected to highlight, as he has before, his over-arching focus on food security and global heath. He’s also expected to present new programs aimed at strengthening commercial ties with African countries, particularly democracies like the nations on his itinerary.

The administration wants to make it possible for the US private sector to play a more vital role in Africa at a time when other countries — notably China, Malaysia, India and Brazil — are stepping up their investments across the continent. Joining the president along the way will be some 500 US business leaders, sending a message to both African and American audiences that the US is hereby rolling up its sleeves.  The critical question about the president’s trip is whether the US is serious and, if so, what substantive policies will follow the anticipated rhetoric.

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China’s “Lewis Turning Point”

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Looking to the year ahead, what big economy-shaping issue should we be thinking about? A growing number of analysts will say that it’s China’s economic transition and its far-reaching implications. China rebounded in the fourth quarter after slowing in the prior three quarters, but the recovery appears to be in response to stimulus spending.

The crucial question is what comes next? What’s in store for China’s once-a-decade new government, and how will global markets be affected?

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What The Map Tells Us

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

The impact of geography is profound, benefitting some countries, handicapping others. To understand global issues, we must first look at a map. That’s the theme of Robert D. Kaplan’s new book, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate.

Kaplan spins the globe explaining how mountains, rivers and coastlines shaped social and political history.  The veteran foreign correspondent knows the terrain well having reported from ramshackle towns and backwater villages in conflict zones for nearly three decades.

His approach to understanding the landscape is based on the premise that “a good place to understand the present, and to ask questions about the future, is on the ground, traveling as slowly as possible”.

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A New World Bank Leader for a New Era?

Friday, April 13th, 2012

A gentleman’s agreement

Since its inception in 1946, the World Bank has had 12 presidents, each of them an American. The practice of choosing an American for the job has gone unopposed given that the U.S. has been the world’s biggest donor nation. Similarly, the Europeans traditionally pick one of their own to run the IMF. This arrangement is known as a “gentleman’s agreement”.

But this year there’s a wrinkle in the World Bank process. A battle is underway among three candidates vying to succeed the incumbent president, Robert Zoellick, whose term ends in June.

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Africa’s Great Boom

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

City Bowl – Cape Town, South Africa

Cause for hope

Another sanguine feature story came out about Africa’s economic growth. The Economist ran a cover story in 2000 headlined, “The Hopeless Continent”, reversed course in December 2011, dubbing Africa, “The Hopeful Continent”. A new African narrative is emerging, finally.

In the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing nations have been in the Sub-Sahara, and that trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. The continent rebounded quickly from the global recession reaching 6% growth last year, surpassing East Asia.

Africa is too vast and diverse to be handled in a broad brush treatment. Each of its economies is affected by a unique and dynamic set of drivers.

However, on the whole, the Sub-Sahara is being shaped by converging forces: global demand for resources, burgeoning consumer markets and government reforms are placing the continent on a path toward sustainable growth. Regional trade and foreign investment are increasingly important. There’s cause for optimism and for a closer look at Africa’s Great Boom.

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Best Books

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Global businesses faced unprecedented opportunities and challenges in 2011. In a year that ushered in the Arab uprisings and a fracturing of the Eurozone, the world grew more interdependent and fragile.

Yet markets are demonstrating surprising capacities for resilience. Engineers and entrepreneurs in places like Nairobi, São Paulo and Doha are beginning to build export-worthy technologies.

This is a momentous time for anyone engaged in cross-market projects. It’s only fitting that the year’s top books match the scale of the changes we’re witnessing.

This is a year-end roundup of books that define our times and guide practitioners with a global perspective.

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A Tale of Two Economies

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Booming São Paulo

The West and the Rest

This is a tale of two economies with interlocking features. One has excess supply; the other has gnawing demand. In the West, economic growth is slowed while emerging markets are busting at the seams. An explosion in the number of urban, middle class consumers and related factors is powering growth in emerging markets.

The World Bank estimates that, on average, emerging nations will grow by 4.7 percent – double that of developed countries — through 2025. That growth isn’t only evident in the so-called BRIC nations, but in Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea, and across the developing world. Some of the fast growing regions are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Three Books on the Middle East

Friday, April 29th, 2011

If you’re absorbed by events in the Middle East and crave more information about the the region, here are three highly readable, essential books. Each provides a comprehensive view of a surprisingly diverse and increasingly dynamic part of the world.

The Middle East (1997) – Author Bernard Lewis is the senior dean of Middle East scholars. He’s a gifted storyteller with unparalleled subject mastery – a rare combination. Lewis makes clear sense out of complexity. This engaging primer is the gold standard of books on the region.

A Peace to End All Peace – The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and Creation of the Modern Middle East (2001) – David Fromkin toiled for ten years to describe the birth of the region’s nation states. This is the story of how the Western powers carved up the Middle East with little regard for the consequences. It’s required reading for anyone interested in understanding the forces that shape the region today.

The Modern Middle East: A Political History since the First World War (2nd Edition) (2011) – This primer by Mehren Kamrava provides a sound historical context for the events of today’s Arab Spring. Kamrava updated the book in the 2nd edition, published earlier this year.  It’s recommended for anyone wanting to fill the gaps in their understanding of the region.

Lessons From Emerging Markets

Sunday, December 19th, 2010


Turning the page

Another interesting year is rapidly winding down. This year, I had the chance to work with many gifted business and tech leaders, but it was particularly satisfying collaborating with innovators in developing regions — the Sub-Sahara, the Middle East and South Asia.

It’s time for Western multinational companies — especially those in the customer-facing sectors — to enter developing markets where consumer-led growth is robust but capital and resources are in short supply.

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Africa’s Latest Asian Wave

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

India’s top mobile carrier, Bharti Airtel, is bringing its ultra low-cost services to the sub-Sahara. Can it adapt its managed services model to penetrate  Africa’s under-served, low-income markets? What are the implications?

Out of the East

Asia’s growing influence in Africa is receiving worldwide attention. China’s investment in Africa will top $100 billion dollars this year making it the continent’s biggest trading partner. There are 800 Chinese companies with over 4 million Chinese people living and working there. China’s impact on Africa, as author Richard Dowden observed, is the biggest economic shift of the twenty-first century.

Now, the story of Asia’s push into Africa is being revised to highlight players from India. In June, Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile carrier – the 5th largest telecom in the world – bought Kuwait-based Zain’s operations in 16 African countries for $10.7 billion in cash.

Bharti has been eager to grab a piece of Africa’s growing mobile market for some time. In 2009, it tried to buy MTN, Africa’s largest carrier, but the deal failed due to regulatory roadblocks. Undeterred, Bharti pivoted quickly setting its sights on Zain.  By June, Bharti bagged its African trophy, though some analysts thought it paid too much for Zain’s assets.

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Africa: Sharp Contrasts Amid Diversity

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

FIFA image

The World Comes to Africa

As the World Cup gets underway this week in South Africa—the first ever to be held on the African continent—the world media is turning its attention there.

Typically, coverage of Africa by the international media is limited to stories about intractable problems—disease, war, famine, and corruption. Many of the World Cup stories are taking a similar tact. Stories about the South Africa’s five new stadiums underscore the nation’s mounting debt while other pieces highlight its security concerns.

A lot of the coverage reflects the world media’s skewed view of Africa as a monolithic place that’s plagued with tragedy. Severe challenges do exist, but many African societies are quietly building their institutions and infrastructures.  It’s time the outside world views Africa through a broader, more accurate lens. (more…)

Remembering C.K. Prahalad

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Invest time in languages and intercultural awareness. Focus on becoming part of global citizenry. In exchange for the opportunity to participate everywhere/anywhere in the world you have the obligation to do something productive, which will improve the world.  ~C.K. Prahalad

Distinguished scholar and visionary

The distinguished business scholar, C. K. Prahalad, died unexpectedly last week of a lung ailment at the age of 69. His contributions to the pursuit of business strategy and innovation are unparalleled.  He’s had an enormous influence on my work and that of my peers.

Dr. Prahalad was more than a celebrated management guru, he was a visionary.  He redefined the way that a growing number of global businesses deal with developing markets, and he helped to shape a new economic paradigm.

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A Distant, Quiet Mobile Revolution

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

sunset over cape point, south africa

Evening at Cape Point on the tip of South Africa

While the business world is preoccupied with the global economic recovery, a mobile revolution is quietly reshaping the marketplace in the developing world. In Africa, mobile phones are providing access to communications for millions of people who’ve never had fixed communications let alone cell phones. I’ve written before about the impact that such ‘leapfrogging’ is having on African business.  Now, we’re beginning to see exciting and substantial commercial projects taking shape, particularly in the service sector.

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In Appreciation

Friday, January 1st, 2010

One of the more satisfying experiences at year’s end is reaching out to clients, partners and colleagues to thank them for their business and their stalwart support.  It’s even sweeter this time while reflecting on an entire decade going back to the early days of my business.

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International Seasoning

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Information’s pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience. ~Clarence Day

Nearly every day, I work with colleagues who are eight or more time zones away. I’ve been doing this, with few interruptions, since the ‘80s. Back then, “geographically distributed” projects were run only by multinational corporations.  Times have changed.

Global markets have become more interdependent, and collaboration across borders is now commonplace, even at smaller companies.  Businesses know that they have to team up with companies in other regions to compete in the global “value creation” race*.

But a lot of companies struggle with this. In a June, 2009 survey by TMA World, 82% of respondents rated the performance of their company’s “global, virtual” teams as either ‘moderate’ or ‘poor’.  Yet nearly all of those surveyed said that global teams were ‘very important’ to their organizations.

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Opportunity “Smell Test”

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

baby smell cropped

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Over the last few weeks, my colleagues and I presented value propositions to separate audiences in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Clients in each of these markets face unique challenges and opportunities to be sure. Our offerings addressed their different needs, but our approach is fundamentally the same everywhere.

Our work consists of three steps:

1)      Develop a better understanding of customer needs by getting closer to customers and engaging them wherever possible,

2)      Use customer insights to continually improve offerings,

3)      Deliver a customer experience that’s better than the rest.

The good news is that these steps apply to clients everywhere, despite cultural variations. The not-so-good news is that succeeding with these steps is almost impossible unless there is substantial buy-in at the highest level in an organization.

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International Rules of Engagement

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

paris

Paris Urban Pattern

I’ve recently noticed a subtle but perceptible attitude shift among Americans working in foreign markets. My overseas colleagues are noticing, too. American business people, they say, are displaying more thoughtfulness than usual. U.S. companies operating overseas seem less inclined to approach global business as though its epicenter is in New York or Palo Alto.

It’s too soon to call this a new Zeitgeist, but change is in the air. The global economic crisis, which has its roots in the U.S., may be partially responsible. I think the new vibe is also influenced by Washington’s new tone in its approach to global  affairs.  As an American doing business abroad, this is promising.

Historically, many American firms have approached business from a decidedly ethnocentric perspective–more so than many of our European rivals.  U.S. companies have missed opportunities as a result.

Things seem to be moving in a better direction now.

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